Don't overlook the tricuspid valve: The importance of taking care of your heart

General Wellness
3d Illustration Human Heart

The human heart is composed of four vital valves. Among them, the tricuspid valve often receives the least attention compared to the mitral and aortic valves — but its importance in maintaining overall cardiac health cannot be overstated.

Understanding the tricuspid valve and its function

Nestled between the right atrium and the right ventricle, this unsung hero functions like a meticulous gatekeeper. Its primary role is to regulate the passage of blood returning from the body to the heart making sure blood flows in one direction without any backflow.

"As the heart beats, the right atrium fills with blood," says William Gray, MD, chief of cardiovascular diseases and co-director, Lankenau Heart Institute, part of Main Line Health . "As it contracts, the tricuspid valve swings open, enabling blood to flow freely into the right ventricle. The moment the atrium relaxes and the ventricle contracts, the tricuspid valve closes promptly, preventing any backflow of blood."

This little component might be easy to overlook in the heart's complex structure, but it’s fundamental in maintaining the heart's efficiency and your overall health.

What is tricuspid valve regurgitation?

You might be wondering what happens when the tricuspid valve falters. The answer is tricuspid valve disease. This umbrella term represents conditions that disrupt the normal functioning of the tricuspid valve, typically due to tricuspid regurgitation.

"Tricuspid regurgitation (TR) signifies a valve that doesn't seal off correctly, causing the blood to backflow into the atrium," says Dr. Gray. "This malfunction can create an imbalance in your heart's rhythm and flow, leading to various health complications if not addressed timely."

Symptoms and diagnosis of tricuspid valve disease

It's important to recognize that tricuspid valve disease often creeps in subtly, making it somewhat tricky to identify. You may experience seemingly harmless symptoms such as slow development of breathlessness, constant fatigue, abnormal heart rhythms or swelling in your legs or abdomen. These signs can easily be mistaken for less serious health issues, making it all the more important to listen to your body and seek professional medical advice when something doesn't feel right.

"If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath or swelling in the legs and abdomen, don’t ignore them. They can be signs of tricuspid valve disease," says Dr. Gray. "No concern is too small when it comes to your heart health, and timely action can make all the difference in safeguarding your well-being."

Diagnosing tricuspid valve disease involves a comprehensive approach. Your health care provider will typically begin with a thorough physical examination and discussion of your medical history. The aim here is to understand the bigger picture of your overall health, and the role your symptoms might play in it.

Next comes the role of advanced imaging technologies. An echocardiogram or a cardiac MRI test is commonly used to provide a detailed image of your heart and valve function. These diagnostic imaging procedures offer a precise insight into any heart-related issues and aid in the diagnosis of tricuspid regurgitation.

The impact of tricuspid valve disease on overall health

When tricuspid valve disease is not promptly addressed, it can potentially lead to severe health complications that can greatly affect your day-to-day life. It can contribute to right-sided heart failure, leading to symptoms like fluid retention and congestion.

"Chronic untreated tricuspid regurgitation can even lead to enlargement of the right side of the heart, potentially impacting your heart’s overall function and leading to hospitalizations," says Dr. Gray.

You may also be at risk for conditions such as heart failure and pulmonary hypertension, both of which can seriously impact your ability to carry out regular activities and potentially result in significant emotional stress. A faulty tricuspid valve can also cause heart rhythm disorders, such as atrial fibrillation, which can then require blood thinner.

Living with these complications is undoubtedly challenging and can also exacerbate other health conditions. It may also place restrictions on your physical capabilities, adding another layer of difficulty to your life. However, remember that early detection and prompt treatment are the keys to minimizing the negative health impacts of tricuspid valve disease.

Advancements in tricuspid valve treatment

Deciding on a treatment plan for tricuspid valve disease is highly individualized, and it’s important to consider the severity of the condition and your overall health. The more severe the leakage creates a more complex condition, and it may require more advanced treatment.

In recent years, groundbreaking non-surgical, catheter-based technologies have emerged as transformative solutions for addressing tricuspid regurgitation. These advancements not only effectively reduce leakage but also offer patients the benefits of a swift recovery and substantial improvements in their quality of life.

"We strive to address TR with a combination of non-surgical/transcatheter interventions and medication to achieve the best treatment for you," says Dr. Gray. "The structural heart team at Main Line Health will work with you to discuss all treatment options available so you can find one that best meets your needs."

Exploring the future of tricuspid valve treatment

Main Line Health is proud to be pioneers, offering the largest inventory of innovative and minimally invasive valve repair options. We are constantly making strides in both clinical practice and research. This commitment to advancing heart health has led us to the cutting-edge realm of tricuspid valve.

"We’re building on the positive momentum. In addition to a recently FDA-approved tricuspid valve replacement, which was studied at Lankenau Heart Institute, part of Main Line Health, is privileged to host four ongoing tricuspid regurgitation clinical trials, each exploring unique devices and approaches," says Dr. Gray. "These trials represent the next frontier of cardiac care, offering potential breakthroughs that could redefine how we approach and treat tricuspid valve disease. This puts patients first and offers hope for the in-need population."

At the Lankenau Heart Institute, we believe that the future of tricuspid valve treatment is bright. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those affected by this condition.

Next steps:

Schedule an evaluation or get a second opinion
Learn about heart and vascular care at Main Line Health
How to manage leaky heart valve